By Elaine Schiman
On July 1st, hundreds of Yukoners and visitors gathered in Shipyards Park in Whitehorse for Canada Day festivities.
Many watched Yukon commissioner Geraldine Van Bibber present two bravery awards for saving the life of a young boy who had fallen into the Yukon River last summer.
Shortly afterwards, the crowd dispersed to take part in other activities, enjoying the entertainment and refreshments on offer.
For most people, the award presentation was a passing moment, but for anyone who has been involved in a rescue, the impact is anything but passing.
Consider, for example, John Mitchell of Dawson City. He still finds it hard to talk about a rescue for which he received the Commissioner’s Award for Bravery, which is given when a person performs an outstanding act of bravery to save the life of another, usually in hazardous circumstances and at great personal risk.
In the spring of 1999, Mitchell saved the life of six-year-old Corey Taylor of Dawson City, who had been attacked by two dogs. A long-time member of the Canadian Rangers, a reserve unit of the Canadian Armed Forces, Mitchell was working in his office that day when he heard noises.
“I looked outside and saw two huge dogs with a couple little legs sticking out from beneath them,” says Mitchell. He rushed outdoors, grabbing a couple of makeshift weapons: a water bucket and small woodstove.
“I used the stove as a shield and the water bucket as a club and went after the dogs. But they just kept coming and coming.”
After a while, Mitchell could see that the dogs were not giving up, and there was no one else around to help. “I realized that if I messed up, someone would die.”
Mitchell decided to start attacking the dogs, rather than just acting in defence.
“I think that surprised them. I managed to get the boy to his feet and we fought our way to my truck.”
Mitchell drove the boy to the nursing station and while there, realized that he was a good friend’s son, whom he knew well.
“He was so badly injured that I didn’t even recognize him,” says Mitchell.
Corey Taylor is in his teens today and has undergone many surgeries to deal with his injuries. Mitchell is proud to report that Corey is now a member of the Junior Rangers, an organization he works with.
Mitchell has received four awards for the rescue, but the one that means the most is the one from Corey’s family: a guardian angel pin.
“I don’t much like the spotlight,” says Mitchell. “I just got lucky that day.”
Modesty may be one of the requirements for award recipients, because Mitchell’s words are echoed by Ron Pond, of Whitehorse, who received the Commissioner’s Award for Public Service in 2002 for his commitment to the improvement of his community’s quality of life.
“There are so many volunteers that contribute to the community and I don’t like to be singled out,” says Pond. “I remember going to the Volunteer of the Year banquet once, and it was amazing to be in a room full of such energy and enthusiasm. I don’t think most people realize the social and economic value contributed by volunteers. I doubt that you could find a Yukoner whose life has not been touched by a volunteer.”
It takes some cajoling but Pond gradually names some of the groups he has volunteered for, which include tourism and business organizations, the Lake Laberge Lions Club, the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Yukon, the Yukon Curling Association, the Yukon Police Curling Association and the National RCMP Veterans Association, just to name a few.
“I think I got the award for sheer accumulation of volunteer activities,” says Pond. “I guess I have been involved in quite a few groups over the years.”
Pond has organized a number of national events, which brought visitors to the territory. He also helped to bring anti-drug and self-esteem programs to Yukon youth.
Today, he serves as the volunteer president of the Yukon Volunteer Bureau.
“One of our goals is to find new volunteers,” says Pond. “Yukon has a huge volunteer force but there is still untapped potential that we need to access. Many Yukon volunteers are stretched too thin.”
Pond is a case in point.
“I started building a model of the Bluenose ship in 1995 and it’s still not finished,” he chuckles. “I’m just too busy!”
For Pond, volunteering has been a reward in itself.
Like most volunteers, he does it because he loves it.
“Volunteering is a social thing, it’s a way to learn skills which can sometimes help you get a new job … and it just feels good. You get way more out of it than you put in.”
As for awards that he has received, including the Commissioner’s Award, Pond says he shares them with all the volunteers he has worked with, as well as his wife and children.
“Everything you do, it’s always a team effort.”
This is the fourth in a series of articles profiling the history and role of the commissioner of Yukon. The series is a service provided by the Office of the Commissioner and Yukon government’s Executive Council Office. For more info, go to www.commissioner.gov.yk.ca.
Elaine Schiman is a freelance writer based in Whitehorse.